Shaba almost untouched

July 3, 2009
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, NAIROBI, Kenya, Jul 3 – It’s like a lost world… Severe dry conditions, loose volcanic soil waiting to be blown or washed away, elephant dung strewn all over the place and rock formations crafted by nature into raw perfection.

The Shaba National Reserve – all 266 square kilometres of it – is a sight to behold.

I went to Shaba over the weekend with little information on what to expect other than a sigh here and there because no one I asked could explain this venue’s topography. When I got there I must admit that I too got a little bit confused. There was nothing, but it was breath-taking.

The sun was burning and dust rose to eye level as our white mini-van sped to the Sarova Shaba Lodge. It had taken us at least five hours to get there and everyone was eager to stretch their legs and feast their eyes on any good thing that they could find. So after using the wet towels to wipe off a LOT of dust, and a brief briefing on our agenda there, everybody began cautiously looking around.

I went camera crazy, snapping away at the water and plants in the lodge from every angle I could think of. The hotel is almost basking in a cocoon of green owing to the fact that it is virtually an oasis in this dry terrain.

Natural water runs through the entire stretch of the hotel – beside the lobby area, in line with the swimming pool, under the Surpelei restaurant and all the way down to the Ewaso Ngiro river, which even though deflated had a quiet beauty about it. There is not much life and just the sound of the waters flowing everywhere gives you a sense of peace.

The lodge is only one of two establishments in this reserve, the other being Joy Adamson’s luxury tented camp.

Saraova Shaba Manager Jayne Nguatah says this is because not many people venture to this brilliant part of the country because of the perception that it is very far.

“Its only five hours if you’re driving but most people feel that there is not much to see in this dry area. But there is so much…”

At about 6am the next morning, we drove to one of the many hills in the reserve for a kind of survivor challenge. As our group; comprising journalists, the national rugby 15s team and their officials, scoured the area looking for hidden eggs, tomatoes and onions, we got a unique view of the amazing rock formations, carved with the flow of the river, and the special vegetation surrounding it.

The grass was dry, but there were palm trees and acacia trees all over the place. One interesting one was the doom palm, which had fronds that were green at the top and brown at the bottom. Looks a bit like an old man with a beard.

We trekked for about an hour, skirting hippopotamus dung, balancing on rocks, dodging thorny branches and trying not fall into the water. By the time we got to the beach, all I could do was stare. My unfit body was sweating from the exertion of the trek, but I felt like I could kill for a seat or hammock and not move for the rest of the day.

Joan Nthiga-Maitha, the Corporate Communications Executive at Sarova Hotels, told me that it’s a pity not many Kenyans came to visit this side of the country.

“Most of the visitors we get are not local. And I think Kenyans are missing out on a lot by not seeing what their country has to offer…,” she said.

We took a roughly 15 kilometre drive later that day to Buffalo Springs. Two natural springs formed by a grenade attack. One is used to provide water to the nearby town of Archer’s Post. The other attracts visitors from all over the world, especially Asians for some reason, because its waters and the unique algae at the bottom are believed to have healing qualities. Good for the skin, they say.

Back at the lodge, I took a recount of the entire weekend which I wish I had the space to narrate to you. I was in room 21 and would often peer out of the window to see if I would spot a crocodile. I did eventually see a big one gasping to cool its body down as a stork walked around it. The croc was immobile and I’m sure it must have just gobbled up an elephant or something because that stomach was massive. I would have gone to tease it if I had the guts!

I felt bad that I didn’t get to the feed the crocodiles, which happens at the Sarova Lodge once in a while, but I did see several animals. Elephants, buffaloes, warthogs, water bucks, zebra, giraffes, dik dik and the oryx. And by the way, as we drove around, we were listening to Capital FM on 103.9. How much more of a good time can you ask for…

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